Author: Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Publication: Scholastic, 2008

Pages: 496

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category:  9-12

Brief Summary: Will Burrows loves to dig.  He feels as if he was born to it, and often helps his father – a historian who runs a local history museum – carry out small excavations around London.  When his father goes missing, Will is determined to find him.  With the help of his friend Chester, he discovers a bricked-up tunnel that his father had been digging in their basement.

Will and Chester re-excavate the tunnel and follow it to an underground city.  Chester wants to leave, but Will’s curiosity gets the best of him.  He can’t help poking around some of the seemingly abandoned houses on the edge of the city.  They get caught and thrown into a dank cell.  But that’s only the beginning.  The city (or Colony as it’s called) is both larger and more dangerous than Will could ever have imagined.  Just getting out alive will be difficult enough, but to rescue Chester and find his father will take an act of bravery beyond Will’s wildest imagination.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: This is an incredibly imaginative novel.  The world that Gordon and Williams have created truly defies belief: a vast city, teeming with people, lying deep under the streets of modern day London.  In it they’ve created an atmosphere that’s an eerie mix of 18th century historical novels and epic fantasy.  Adding in the Styx – a strange race of pale skinned people that serve as the Colony’s soldiers and religious leaders – only makes it all the more fascinating.

The characters are deeply drawn and utterly unique.  I especially liked Will’s mother, a dried up husk of a woman whose dreams died a long time ago and have been replaced by a killer obsession with TV.  Then there’s his sister, Rebecca, who at age 11 has taken over complete responsibility for the running of the house, from shopping to cleaning to cooking.  Will himself is a wonderfully full and rich character, marked by a boundless curiosity, a love of dirt, a thrill for discovery, and an obsession with finding his father.

What I Liked the Least: Will’s friend, Chester, is badly mistreated.  Not long after they are imprisoned, Will is released and brought to meet his new family.  He investigates the Colony  and begins to learn more about his past, but all the while Chester remains locked up in a dark cell – alone.  I know that Gordon and Williams did this to up the tension and to give Will an obstacle to overcome – but all the same I found it hard to stomach how long Chester had to be locked up, waiting for Will to try and rescue him.

The only other thing I didn’t like – and this is a fairly standard gripe for me – was the scene which Will had to be rescued by his Uncle Tam.  It was a powerful scene to be sure, and one that continues to affect Will well into the next novel.  But all the same I wish that Gordon and Williams could have found some way for Will to rescue himself without Tam’s help.

How Good was the Action?  Excellent.  Gordon and Williams are good at creating tension, loosening it a little, and then ramping it up again.  The fight scenes – both of which involve Uncle Tam – are extremely well done and fairly graphic.  But the best scene of all involves Will and his new brother Cal running from the Styx in a crumbling ruin, chased through thick fog, with dogs closing in on all sides.   The fog and the ever present sound of the dogs left the air crackling with tension.

How Engaging was the Story?   It pulled me in and truly did not let go.  At each stage of the novel there was something to keep me reading, often late into the night.  Gordon and Williams have done such a good job of establishing their characters that I was absolutely intent on following them through each successive plot twist and surprise.   I had to know if Will would somehow manage to rescue Chester and find his father.

Overall Assessment: This is a great book, highly imaginative, with wonderfully unique characters and some excellent action.  I heartily recommend giving it a try.  My only caveat is that it’s quite dark.  The Colony reeks of hardship and evil, Will and Chester are tortured, and people die.  But if you’re like me – and find that a dark atmosphere only makes books better – than this definitely one novel you don’t want to miss.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: There are many instances of suspense, where Will is running for his life and being thrown in prison or tortured.  But there are only two incidents of actual graphic violence, both involving Tam – one is a fist fight, the other involves swords, and both are quite graphic.

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